Original paper

Experimental investigation of soil ecohydrology on rocky desert slopes in the Negev Highlands, Israel

Hikel, Harald; Yair, Aaron; Schwanghart, Wolfgang; Hoffmann, Ulrike; Straehl, Sarah; Kuhn, Nikolaus J.


Purpose: Dryland vegetation is expected to respond sensitively to climate change and the projected variability of rainfall events. Rainfall as a water source is an obvious factor for the water supply of vegetation. However, the interaction of water and surface on rocky desert slopes with a patchy soil cover is also vital for vegetation in drylands. In particular, runoff on rocky surfaces and infiltration capacity of soil patches determine plant available water. Process-based studies into rock-soil interaction benefit from rainfall simulation, but require an approach accounting for the micro-scale heterogeneity of the slope surfaces. This study therefore aims at developing a suitable procedure for examining rock-soil interaction and the relevance of soil volume for storing plant available water in the northern Negev, Israel. Materials and methods: To determine the amount of rainfall required to fill the available soil water storage capacity rainfall simulation experiments were conducted. The design of the rainfall-simulator and the selection of the plots aimed specifically at observing infiltration into small soil patches on a micro-scale relevant for the prevalent vegetation cover. Results and discussion: The preliminary results of the study in the Negev Desert indicate that the ratio between soil volume and frequency of rainfall events determine the effect of climate change on plant available water and thus ultimately vegetation cover. Conclusions: Based on the experiments examining runoff and soil moisture the qualitative understanding of hillslope ecohydrology in a rocky desert environment can be expanded into a quantitative assessment of the potential impact of varying rainfall conditions. The study also illustrates the contribution of rainfall simulation experiments for studies on the impact of climate change.


drylandsecohydrologyrocky desertsrainfall simulation